After having assets frozen, man accused of Shasta Vista pot cultivation is released from jail

Skye Kinkade
Mount Shasta Herald

A man who Siskiyou County officials believe is central to the saga of illegal marijuana cultivation in the Mt. Shasta Vista area has been out of jail on his own recognizance for more than a month.  

Mouyang Lee, 46, will return to court on July 14 for a preliminary hearing. He faces a long list of charges and special allegations that extend back to 2016, according to court records:

  • Conspiracy to commit a crime
  • Money laundering
  • Fraud or embezzlement 
  • Failure to file income tax
  • Keeping a place for selling controlled substances
  • Cultivation of marijuana
Mouyang Lee

Although in February, Siskiyou County Superior Court Judge Karen Dixon had increased Lee’s bail from $2 million to $3 million, on May 13 she released Lee on his own recognizance, citing his frozen assets and inability to make bail.

“Judge Dixon essentially treated Mr. Lee like he was indigent,” said Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus, who was disappointed with the move.

Raza Lawrence, one of Lee’s defense attorneys, said the $3 million bail figure was inappropriate. He said Lee is accused of a misdemeanor — unlicensed marijuana cultivation — and the case has been “blown out of proportion” into a long felony complaint.

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“They have this long list of repeated charges, which we believe is intended to increase the maximum sentence (Lee) would face,” said Lawrence, whose law office is based in Beverly Hills. “It seems to be a strategy to pressure Mr. Lee into take a plea deal.”

Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus

Stipulations to Lee’s release

Although frustrated by Lee’s release, Andrus said he had a hand in writing release requirements.

Lee must wear an ankle monitor and is prohibited from leaving the state, Andrus said. He’s also prohibited from going to certain areas of Siskiyou County and was required to surrender his passport.

Andrus said the most significant requirement of Lee’s release was the agreement to abate illegal cannabis on several of his properties in the Mt. Shasta Vista area, a 1,798 parcel development tucked away in central Siskiyou County between County Road A-12 and Highway 97.

Lawrence said Lee agreed to cooperate with sheriff’s personnel and not interfere with legal search warrants.

Jeremiah LaRue was sworn in as the new interim Siskiyou County Sheriff on Oct. 6, 2020 during a ceremony in front of the Siskiyou County Courthouse in Yreka.

On May 19, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department went into the area with bulldozers and tore down greenhouses on 160 acres owned by Lee. A few days later, they abated 620 additional acres, Andrus said.

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Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue said during the operations, 527 greenhouses and 133,000 marijuana plants were destroyed. He called the environmental impacts of illegal marijuana cultivation “the biggest problem (Siskiyou County) faces.”

“It needs to be gone ... there is no compromising with that,” LaRue said, adding that it’s not about the crop itself, but the environmental impact marijuana cultivation has on the land.

Why was Lee released on his own recognizance?

Andrus pointed to a California Supreme Court decision issued in March that directed courts to consider a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail, known as “In re Kenneth Humphrey.”

Lawrence said when Dixon applied these new standards to Lee’s case, she decided he should be released because of his inability to pay the $3 million bail. 

At Lee’s May 13 hearing, the Siskiyou County DA's office did all they could to keep Lee in jail, Andrus said.

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Lee had been incarcerated at Siskiyou County Jail in Yreka since October of 2020.

“We submitted documentation showing that Lee had sold $750,000 in real estate in 2020 and that these funds were not accounted for,” Andrus said. “We also submitted documentation showing that he was charging tens of thousands of dollars in rent on numerous properties with active illegal cannabis activities and that those funds were unaccounted for. This in addition to approximately 1,000 acres of land, including residences, owned by Mr. Lee and bank accounts and a stock account that had been frozen during the investigation.”

Lawrence said he’s simply glad Lee is out of jail so he can get prepared for the pretrial hearing ahead.

After Dixon indicated that she would release Lee, she asked the probation department to submit suggested terms of the release.

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Andrus said he immediately contacted Assistant Chief Probation Officer Jennifer Villani and urged that the terms include the abatement of his property. They quickly drafted an agreement.

Although he was skeptical that Lee would sign the agreements, he did so without argument, Andrus said. 

At the July 14 preliminary hearing, Andrus' office will present evidence in the case. The judge will then decide if there is enough evidence bring the case to trial.

Skye Kinkade is the editor of the Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers and the Siskiyou Daily News. She is a fourth generation, lifelong Siskiyou County resident.